This article first appeared in Business Journal Africa – Empowering Africa’s Entrepreneurs – Issue No 162 of Oct 2013

Picture this scenario and reflect on just how familiar it sounds… Your computer is frustrating you thoroughly, it is behaving in a manner likely to suggest that it will not cooperate with the instructions you are meting out. You are unable to retrieve the application you would like to use or your computer for no apparent reason is just hanging there winking at you, not responding to your commands, brazen with impunity. Had it been a youthful generation Y Kenyan it would have in brush script plastered on the screen ‘Uta Do?’ (So???) In the spirit of not giving up you have made several attempts at rebooting and troubleshooting that have borne no fruit. So you do what you need to do and call up the ICT support person in your organization’s ICT department. And right here begins ‘The Techie’s Dilemma on Customer Service.’

So the gentleman from support comes over( no gender bias intended – for some unfathomable reason, the support chaps are next to always gentlemen), listens to your computer woes, takes one look at you then at the computer, touches one thing and only one thing, clicks on it and voila! everything sorts itself out. And the good gentleman after performing this magical act looks at you like you are a complete dunderhead with regards to ICT matters. Ok yes yes yes you are and if you were not you’d have performed that magical thing that he did right there, but does he have to shoot those looks that spell ‘idiot’?
The thing about customer service which is the main function of an ICT help desk or support desk is that it requires a tricky balance between being a technical person able to diagnose and troubleshoot users’ problems whilst understanding their needs and being a people oriented customer service type person. Would this be an outlier? Is this something completely unexpected, out of the box and too good to be true? The two more often than not most unfortunately do not go together. People with customer service flair are very often found in their line of work, handling customer service portfolios and dealing with people, and people who are highly technical and great at working intimately with gadgets and gizmos are just that – techies.
So what does it take for the techie to be aligned towards talking to people and helping them out even when their queries and needs seem so simplistic and a total waste of precious techie innovation time? How does the techie balance between the need to quickly rectify the situation and have the user back on track and the need to explain to the user what has happened and what they need to do should the situation arise again? Is this an ‘outlying’ quest? Does this sound like something that would be the exception rather than the norm?
Given that most user support departments are very busy and support officers are in high demand in the organizations they serve, precious time that would be taken to explain to a user in completely lay terms to enable them understand the root cause of their ICT problem, what they would need to do to ensure it either doesn’t happen again or if it does how to sort out the problem on their own, is simply not available. The almost classroom nature that this conversation would need to take including a demo and the participant actually carrying out the troubleshooting process would indeed consume a significant amount of time, a luxury the support department does not have.
The key performance indicators for these departments always revolve around logging of support calls and the turnaround time taken to resolve user issues. The more users served in a day and the quicker the support person arrives and leaves behind a sorted out customer, the better the department’s performance against targets.
The million dollar question therefore remains – is the sorted out customer a satisfied customer? Is there truly a way to balance between dispensing of technical duty and providing good customer service? Or is this one of those ‘outlying’ situations, never to be heard of except for once in a green moon? The customer in question is generally the internal customer. Some of whom require the services of the support department to sort out the external customers coming to the organization directly or procuring goods or services from the organisation. So essentially it is important for this internal user to get the best out of the ‘internal service provider’.
So where does this leave the user support techies? First tip would be to have the support personnel adjust the way in which they look at and perceive the internal user. The user should be viewed as a ‘customer’ and not as a colleague. This will serve to have the support personnel’s attitude towards the user shift towards one of providing customer service literally and not support service. And as is said, attitude is everything. Once this switch happens, the values of helpfulness and patience will dock in of their own accord. Does this sound outlandish perhaps?
The support personnel would also need to literally put themselves in their customers’ shoes and imagine what the person’s frustrations are, their lack of technical aptitude to deal with them and the ripple effect of their not being able to perform the tasks at hand on the overall organization’s achievement of goals. Once the bigger picture is in place, sorting out an individual’s issues will be seen in the bigger picture of enabling the organization to achieve corporate objectives and strategy. This vision should have the values of helpfulness and patience once again dock in of their own accord.
Another initiative the support department would need to engage in that would add value, would be to document the most frequently asked questions that do not require technical support and can be resolved at user level, and to then develop a user guide with step by step simple pictorials and screen shots that outline how to resolve the issue. A ‘Help Desk 101 for ICT Idiots’ manual of some sort. This can then be sent out to the users to save in an easily accessible place. Once a call is placed through to the support desk and the support team establishes that indeed the problem at hand is one of these, they can refer the user to the guide and only if they are unable to resolve the issue then pay a well deserved visit to their desk. This will provide benefits two fold as the support team would save precious time and the user would feel empowered by the self sufficiency of problem resolution. Mission Impossible? Perhaps not…

In the mean time, whilst business are lining up their front office teams and customer facing teams for customer service and brand alignment training, the support team should be right up there in the budget allocation with the rest of them. Friendly and pleasant user support experiences will duly enhance internal customer service, a key ingredient towards achieving excellent external customer service and delivering on the organization’s brand promise.